The arrested suspects were identified as Ikenna Aningwu, 28; Ebere Okere, 36; Toyin Dada, 36; Naboth Iyke, 35; and Yomi Alalade, 39.
The suspects and others at large allegedly forged documents bearing the signature of Cardinal John Onaiyekan of the Catholic Archdiocese, St. James Catholic Church, Abuja.
The cardinal was a former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
PUNCH Metro learnt that they presented the documents to the Consulate General of the Italian Embassy on Victoria Island in order to secure six visas for intending Christian pilgrims to Rome.
A police source disclosed to our correspondent that the embassy was suspicious of the documents and contacted the cardinal to verify the signature, which turned out to have been forged.
The source said, “Sometime in November 2017, Aningwu and five other suspects at large conspired with Okere, Dada, Iyke and Alalade to forge documents for visas. Aningwu and the five others wanted to go for pilgrimage in Rome.
“In a desperate attempt to get the approval of the Italian Embassy on Victoria Island, Lagos, Iyke and others, who are at large, forged the signature of the cardinal in the documents and presented same to the embassy.
“In the course of verification, the embassy contacted the cardinal, who said he had never had any encounter with any of the suspects before and denied the signature as his.”
It was learnt from another source that a petition was addressed to the Zone 2 Police Command, Onikan, Lagos, in respect of the alleged fraud.
“The embassy pretentiously called the suspects that the visas were ready and they should come to pick them up. Aningwu was arrested when he went to pick one of the visas. Other members fled having got wind of his arrest. He led operatives to locations where four of the accomplices were arrested,” the source added.
The suspects were on Thursday arraigned in Igbosere Magistrate’s Court on three counts bordering on forgery and fraud.
The police prosecutor, Sergeant Chinedu Njoku, told the court that the alleged offences contravened sections 366 and 411 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2015.
The charges read in part, “That you, Ikenna Aningwu, Ebere Okere, Dada Toyin, Naboth Iyke, Alalade Yomi and others at large, sometime in the month of November 2017, at the Italian Embassy, Victoria Island, Lagos, in the Lagos Magisterial District, did conspire among yourselves to commit felony, to wit: forgery, using false documents to obtain visa.
“That you, Naboth Iyke, and others at large, on the same date, time and place, in the aforesaid magisterial district, with intent to defraud, did knowingly forge the letter of Catholic Archdiocese, St. James Catholic Church, Dwaki, Abuja, with the signature of Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, with intent that it may be used or acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of Consulate General, Visa Section, Italian Embassy, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“That you, Ikenna Aningwu, Ebere Okere, Dada Toyin, Naboth Iyke, Alalade Yomi, and others at large, used a forged letter of Catholic Archdiocese, St. James Catholic Church, Dwaki, Abuja, dated November 27, 2017, with the signature of Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and gave them to Consulate General Office, Visa Section, Italian Embassy, thereby committing an offence punishable under Section 365 (1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2015.”
The defendants, who were brought before Chief Magistrate A.F.O. Botoku, pleaded not guilty to the charges and elected summary trial.
The magistrate granted them bail in the sum of N100,000 each with two sureties each in like sum and adjourned the case till January 17, 2018.